Blogging, Boba & Berkeley

10 March 2020

"If you’re trying to procrastinate working on that 6 page ‘book report’ where you were given no guidelines or that essay that you know you will actually write up on a caffeine induced high the night before, why not slip into San Francisco."


The weather in the bay area has turned soggy and quite cold. Fog from the ocean
now wraps around much of Berkeley, in a way that it becomes impossible to see
even just a bit ahead. Perhaps, this is good for those of you trying to avoid being
seen by your professor casually strolling around campus when you wrote that
vaguely worded email claiming you were too ‘sick’ to go to class.
Anyways, the semester here at UC Berkeley is almost over. We’re nearing the end
of Thanksgiving break (Wednesday 27th November- Sunday 1 December). Now,
we have one more week of classes, then what is called ‘dead’ week, a week of just
revision before the week of the final exams. This year, we conveniently skipped
some classes due to power shortages. Risk of fires and a minor earthquake made
everyone fear the Big One was actually coming. This adds the thrill of adventure
we are all seeking for on year abroad but actually we’re thankful nothing

Clearly, coming to Berkeley already in itself is not enough on your plate.
Therefore, one thing I believe some UCL students coming here might enjoy, is
getting involved with URAP. This is the Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship
Program, which means working as a research assistant for a UC Berkeley
professor. At the start of semester applications open, whereby you scroll on the
website to see which projects interest you. This is a competitive program, so you
can apply for a total of three. This semester I was scrolling through and came
across a research on religious congregations in Malawi by professor Swidler.
This immediately intrigued me, so I applied and now I’m working with her and a
wonderful team of students. Since joining Berkeley, this has by far been the most
rewarding experience.


Berkeley can get quite cold, intense and isolating throughout the semester. I’m
really sorry to destroy anyone’s idealized version of a California dream whereby
you’d come here and sunbathe on the beach all year doing one or two
assignments per semester. This is simply not the case, as San Francisco is known
for being notably colder than the rest of California. Because that isn’t
disheartening enough, the workload at Berkeley is also pretty intense. To
maximize your time here you can make it easier on yourself and select a lower
unit count for one or both semesters. The minimum required is 14 units per
semester. Due to URAP, I ended up with 18 units. Although it is manageable it
does mean I spend a lot of time working.

Making friends at Berkeley is not super easy. Hope I’m not destroying any other
idyllic vision that you may have had before coming here. However, I think its
better to be honest rather than sugarcoat reality. Students here are really
competitive and under pressure to perform well. Many are super bright, and this
is admirable. However, with such a competitive culture students are stressed and
Berkeley has the highest rates of depression compared to any other college in
the US. Talking to people in lectures is hard, and approaching people is not easy.
However, I have found that anywhere in the world people are just people.
Everyone wants to be heard, accepted and listened to. If you approach people
with even the smallest greeting, you’ll be surprised how quickly they can open
up. Sometimes, it’s just about finding the courage to make the first move. After
that, building any friendship is possible. Therefore, although this started on a
darker note it’s really possible to make fantastic connections here.


If you’re trying to procrastinate working on that 6 page ‘book report’ where you
were given no guidelines or that essay that you know you will actually write up
on a caffeine induced high the night before, why not slip into San Francisco. The
city is vibrant and multicultural. It feels very far removed from the rest of the
world and the US, perhaps because we are on the West coast. Places I’ve enjoyed
visiting are Fisherman’s Wharf (very touristy area), Golden Gate Bridge (like,
obviously), China Town (must see), Mission Bay (quaint, bohemian) and Twin
Peaks (scenic). The other day, with a group of friends we took the BART to the
Mission district then hiked 40 minutes up to Twin Peaks. From here you get a
spectacular view of not only San Francisco, but pretty much all of the bay up to
Berkeley. Ideal for taking some scenic pictures that you can then send to your
family to show them that you are actually still alive. That is, if you can muster the
courage to go up to a stranger to get your photo taken (something that all three
of us in the group struggled with for like a good twenty minutes I’d say).
In between the stress induced panic attack from submitting the essay at 11:59
and the passive aggressive reminder from your mom that you haven’t called in
basically three weeks, make sure to explore on your year abroad. By this, I don’t
mean that you have to go on a travel frenzy every weekend. Don’t feel the
pressure to go anywhere if you just want to stay in a fixed location. I remember
feeling down when I heard of all the exchange students planning to go to Seattle
or pull the LA and Las Vegas in three days journey. Everyone is telling you that
this is the best time of your life and that you should be going so many places and
doing loads of things. Whilst this is great, if you’re more like me the kind of
person that likes staying in one place and getting used to that, then that’s fine.
Your experience is no less valid than anyone else’s, and there are plenty of things
to do in the bay area. Therefore, by explore I mean do it in whatever way you
want. Explore the library and the immense collection of books on offer at
Berkeley. Explore Berkeley itself, with food places from anywhere imaginable,
and the best boba. Explore the bay area, or San Francisco. Exploration on year
abroad is important, but the way you do it is entirely up to you.

By: Luigi Muci